UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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Doomed Web Sites

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 Aug 2007

On 12th August I received an email which informed me that:

.. the Splashblog service will be terminated on SEPTEMBER 10th, 2007. The Splashblog website, any uploaded pictures or content, and customer support will no longer be accessible after this time.

I subscribed to Splashblog‘s free service (which provides a mobile photo blogging service) in January, as the Splashblog application was bundled with a Palm PDA which I’d purchased. I never actually used the service, so the withdrawal of the service does not affect me.  However having only a month’s notice to export one’s data did strike me as rather worrying.  One could easily envisage a scenario in which a service like this is intended for use in a teaching course, but the lecturer is away on sabbatical during the summer and fails to stop this message and act on it, resulting in loss of the service and data.

Clear justification for not making use of such external Web 2.0 services, you might argue. We should either be hosting our own services, or at least using services which are managed by trusted public sector organisations and aren’t subject to commercial decisions, takeovers, etc.

But this isn’t necessarily the case, as struck me when I was reminded of the article published on the BBC  News Web site in January 2007 on The doomed government websites which listed 551 government Web sites which are to be axed.

What is the future of the data and services provided on these Web sites?  What should be done to support not only the direct users of the services, but indirect use; perhaps, for example, these services could be used in an educational context.

And if you work in one of the affected government agencies, what steps should you be taking now to (a) inform your user communities; (b)  ensure that access to data and services which will still be required can be found and accessed by the users and (c)  ensure that resources which may have some historical relevance are preserved?

These issues have been brought to my attention by the headlines in the BBC News article.   But the issues are also very relevant in other sectors: what will happen to the data and services provided by the AHDS when their funding ceases; what happened to the data and services provided by universities which have merged in recent years (for example, University of North London and London Guildhall University)?

If we don’t have answers to these questions, we mustn’t use the demise of the Splashblog service as an excuse to ban use of externally hosted services provided by the commercial sector.  After all, Google has a lifespan which is longer than, for example, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which was only established in June 2007.

9 Responses to “Doomed Web Sites”

  1. “What is the future of the data and services provided on these Web sites?”

    Hm, this has all been rather thoroughly covered eight months ago but I think the upshot was that all data will still be available, but in a different location.

    The Government websites are notorious (infamous?) in the web community for chopping and changing the location, layout and services they provide without any notice at all. They’re mostly an absolute nightmare. My favourites are the ones which link to explanations of bills which no longer exist or online application forms which have moved and have broken redirects. Any notification at all, even if 3rd-party such as the BBC, should be considered an amazing boon.

    Ahem. More productively, every one of those sites should have a big fat banner on its homepage saying that it will be closed down and where the service will be found in the future.

    Unless your DCSF comment is a double-bluff then doesn’t it exactly exemplify your normal stance on these things, that is, just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s liable to disappear any time soon?

    “we mustn’t use the demise of [a particular service] as an excuse to ban use of externally hosted services provided by the commercial sector.”

    Three words.

    A. P. I.

  2. Mike said

    Techcrunch has an entire section dedicated to startups which hit the wall. It’s interesting, if slightly frightening, to watch…

    Personally, I think the entire web thing is just a fad.

  3. Its difficult to judge anything from SplashBlog dying, because it is not a startup, merely an acquisition of Six Apart (who, basically, are closing it to push everyone over to Vox). However, it is worth noting that initially, they announced SplashBlog would close on the 10th August, and have only pushed out the deadline because of feedback.

    However, if this was a real startup going under, I would thoroughly expect them to simply close the server one day and THEN announce they were dead – because in the end of the day, the data on their servers is an asset that they can sell on. They are VERY unlikely to tell everyone “you have a month or so to clear to another service because we are dying”. Any data that is not owned by the company will probably be deleted.

    In that way, data loss is a risk if you only have your data on these sort of external services. That’s the price of using a free service – you pay them nothing, they owe you nothing. I agree wholeheartedly that we should not “ban use of externally hosted services provided by the commercial sector” but we should also be careful not to over-rely on them.

  4. Also, controversial question/point:

    It seems to me that there is a massive stigma around “hosting our own services”. Why? The majority of the sort of content that people are talking about uploading is utterly basic, technologically – powerpoint presentations as Flash files, photos, etc. It also simply would not cost hardly anything over-and-above existing costs for a web site to host these sort of things. I wonder if this whole “use an external service” concept is used too often by Web Masters who refuse to change their attitutde towards publication on “their” websites.

    If you can upload a presentation to slideshare it should be, if anything, EASIER to upload a presentation to a hosted site.

  5. I feel there is a massive stigma, especially in higher education, to using third party services. And as I said in a talk on Globalisation Of Social Networks use of services such as Slideshare can provide large numbers of users which can both maximise impact and also maximise feedback.

    I have come across inhouse repository solutions which have failed to provide the functionality which users now expect and have a small user base which fails to benefit from the network effect.

    But as you say in your first comment, we need to ensure that such services don’t disappear unexpectedly.

  6. Yes, closing Govt websites down is but a variation on the way they mismange them in the first place: I always used to find it particularly annoying the way that business support and advice agencies would have long blurbs about helping small businesses get to grips with technology etc. and them supply unwirldy and impenetrable websites, with content that moved or vanished without warning.

    As an educator, I’m still wary of setting credit-bearing assignments for students where the thing they are being assessed on is something created on a free site, where theoretically their work could disappear with no comeback as they were completing it. However, I’m horrbly lax about backing up my blogs on Blogger, despite the huge investment in time I’ve made in them – have got rather complacent there.

  7. […] a service will be provided in the future. A topic that Brian Kelly discussed here in this blog when Splashblog closed its doors. Brian suggested that such closures could be considered by some to be a clear justification for not […]

  8. Mahadevan said

    I have been an regualr user of splashblog,since i am having a windows mobile phone.After transfered to a different place and did not activated my gprs and did not use splashblog for quitesome time.
    Suddenly today morning i came to upload some photo and shocked to see the blog is not there and after search i ffoud this article.
    Now all my photos are lost!.I have written an appreciation mail to splashblog when i used there service. But now it is horrible to imaging my photos have vapourisied.
    It is a shame for digital companies, since we are using their service for free does not mean , it can be wiped out. This gives a feeling the web is not matured yet and the responsibility of the companies are only ,limited, unlike brick.
    May be we should create a digital warehouse, to save the data in the web and make the companies responsinlt to dump there in case of acquisation or shutting down to safeguard the data, so that the interested parties may pay some amount and retreive the data.

  9. Wendell said

    I didn’t pay too much attention to this post the first time I read it. Now that Yahoo!360 – one of my class tools of choice – has become a doomed service, I’m left wondering what to tell my learners about their posts and friend lists.

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